By Viv Hill
The idea of forming an operatic society at Resolven originated in 1925 with Captain D.J.Williams, the then headmaster of Resolven School. By 1926 officers and committee had been elected and the new society launched.
The first production was The Pirates of Penzance which took place at the New Pavilion in January 1927. The Musical Director was Mr Herbert Thomas and producer Captain D.J. Williams who also took a lead part. The next production was to be HMS Pinafore in November 1927. It is interesting to note that the hall had no dressing rooms, so that the men had to change in the billiards hall next door while the women changed in houses nearby. Chorus and cast had to make their way down the back lane to the stage entrances, sometimes in the rain. However, their enthusiasm was not dampened and both shows were a great success.
Iolanthe was to be the 1928 production but was abandoned, probably due to very poor economic conditions prevailing at the time. There were to be no further operatic productions until 1938.
The Society was re – formed in 1936 as the Resolven and District Amateur Operatic Society. The Mikado was chosen as the first production in May 1938followed by The Gondoliers in May 1939. Many of the cast and chorus had taken part in 1927 and the Musical Director was once again Mr Herbert Thomas. Iolanthe was to be the next production but once again proved to be an unlucky choice , for with young men being called to the forces and both men and women on shift work for the war effort, the show had to be abandoned and the Society disbanded until the end of the war.
The Pirates of Penzance was performed in 1948, with Herbert Thomas as M.D. and the cast included many from the pre-war shows, including Merfyn Jeffries (Jeff), Clayton Thatcher, Idris Morgan, Mary Olwen Williams, Rachie Davies, Ben Davies, Blodwen Davies and newcomers Megan Hopkins and Jack Rossitter. It is remarkable that four of this cast later became Presidents of the Society.
Rehearsals were in progress for the 1950 production of The Mikado when Herbert Thomas became ill and died. This was a great loss, since as stated in the 1950 programme,
“Herbert was more than our conductor; he was our guide and inspiration”.
Fortunately, Glen Davies the son of the then Chairman and later President, Mr Tom Davies, had been appointed as accompanist for The Mikado and was able to take over as Musical Director. Remarkably he was to hold this position for the next forty four years and proved also to be a guide and inspiration, since under his directions the volume and quality of our musical output was phenomenal.
For the first four shows, Glen kept to the traditional Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire deviating for the first time in 1954 with “Merrier England”. The return to G&S in 1955 with HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury was personally significant as it was my first show. I little realised then that I would go on to play a leading role in every production for the next thirty nine years. The years that followed were to be the productive in the Society’s history for under Glyn’s leadership we effectively became an operatic cum choral society. A scene from "Trial by Jury" ( Photo: B Dix)
In 1956 we competed in the Madrigal competition at the Aberdare National Eisteddfod taking second prize. Glyn then suggested that we put on a concert to keep us busy for the whole year. The first work chosen was Haydn’s Third Mass and this proved our introduction to some of the finest choral work ever written. This work thrilled us and we were to repeat it several times over the years, notably with Neath Municipal Choir in 1963 and Skewen Choral Society in 1966. Then followed Rossini’s Stabat Mater, two more Haydn masses, Cherubini’s Requiem Mass, Mozart’s Mass in D, Mozart’s Requiem and Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha. During this period we also combined with Neath Municipal Choir in four presentations of the Messiah and in 1966 combined with Skewen Choral Society in order to compete at the Bridgend National Eisteddfod.
We were also maintaining a high standard in our annual opera presentations and in 1967 came second in the Light Opera Competition sponsored by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation with our production of Carmen. It was for this production that I invited my then colleague, John Rees, to paint the set. Since then has designed and painted the sets for all but three of our productions and has been a great asset to the Society. A later production of the Gondoliers received the following comment of the adjudicator,
“The Society has an excellent chorus and a very strong group of principals. Singing wise this was one of the strongest overall performances I can remember”.
The 1970s saw us performing some of the world’s greatest operettas including Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and Lehar’s Merry Widow. We celebrated our Golden Jubilee in 1977 with two operatic productions and a concert – after fifty years the Society was in excellent health.
1977 saw the retirement of Merfyn Jeffries as Producer and after his long and distinguished service he inevitably became President until his death in 1985. He was succeeded by Mrs Gwenno Cole Evans of Treherbert who subsequently produced twelve shows for the Society and it was with an excerpt from her first production The Grand Duchess that we won the Opera Competition at the Porthcawl Miners Eisteddfod at our first attempt.
The 1980s were largely a decade of new productions. We performed operettas by Offenbach , Victor Herbert , Ivor Novello , Oscar Strauss and Schubert. We also continued with our annual concerto and in 1990 presented one with an unique programme of music by the three Doctors of Music born and bred in Resolven , namely Tom Hopkin Evans , David Evans and David de Lloyd.
Glyn’s last show was The Desert Song ending his unique record of forty four years as Musical Director . At a presentation evening held for him I tried to encapsulate his career in a poem ending with these lines which expressed the feelings of us all.
“ For his time , his talent , his patience strong
For the depth and variety he’s given our song
For all these years of toil put in
We , from our hearts , say thank you Glyn.”
This sadly was also our last production with a large choral content since our much acclaimed chorus has been greatly depleted. Our last productions , Oliver, The King and I , The Sound of Music and the Wizard of Oz have all had a minimum of chorus but notably have included many children. In this way we have helped to sow the seeds for future development. The have been excellent productions, much appreciated by our audiences.
As President of the Society I look back with great pride and pleasure at the range and depth of our musical and artistic achievements. For a village society they have been formidable. As we enter a new millennium I hope, that in spite of our present difficulties , we will be able to continue with the good work and provide and continue to provide a focal point for the cultural activities of our community.( This article was first published in Resolfen Recalled. Unfortunately, owing to a number of factors the Operatic Society is nwo dormant. Any photographs of the Society in action would be very welcome - Trefor Jones